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Make] Projects 


Written By: Len Cullum 



Combination square (1) 

Lumber (2) 

Drill bit (1) 

Lumber (1) 

• Drill bit M) 

it bit 

Lumber (1) 

Lumber (optional) (1) 
clear cedar or pine 

Drill bit (1) 

Drill press (1) 

(recc r drill 

Hammer (1) 

Double-sided taped) 

Wood Finish d) 

Handsaw (1) 


Sandpaper or Hand plane (1) 

Table saw (1) 

(recc )/- other saw 

Wood chisel d) 
mak harp 


Based on the trestles of a Japanese woodworking bench, these sawhorses are a good 
beginning joinery project. 

They're constructed using the mortise and tenon, the fundamental joint in woodworking. The 
tenon (end projection) of one piece fits into the mortise (hole) in another piece. 

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This project uses the drawbore style of mortise and tenon, which is secured by a wooden pin 
that draws it tight and makes it look great. 

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Step 1 — Mortise and Tenon Joint 

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• What makes a drawbore different 
from a regular pegged tenon is the 
offset pin holes. Instead of the pin 
passing straight through the joint to 
hold it together, the hole in the 
tenon is bored slightly closer to the 
shoulder. This offset causes the 
tenon to be drawn deeper into the 
mortise when the wooden pin is 
driven through. 

• Watching a joint that you made pull 
itself together like that is a very 
cool thing. And when you feel how 
strong it is with no glue or metal 
fasteners, it opens doors in your 
head. You realize that joinery isn't 
just the realm of mountain-dwelling 
woodworking mystics, but an 
accessible approach to working 
with wood. 

• The joint may look intimidating, but 
if you take your time and use sharp 
tools, you'll be surprised at how 
easy it is. And while the drawbore 
style is a little more complicated, 
when cut carefully it's fairly 
forgiving of loose fits, a bonus for 
the beginner. 

• If you're comfortable around 
woodworking tools, these horses 
should present a light challenge, 
then last a lifetime. Because of 
their myriad uses in the workshop, 
to call them sawhorses would sell 
them short. I prefer workhorses. 

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Step 2 — Lumber and Sizing 

• Choosing the right lumber can 
make the project much easier. 
Look for pieces that are straight 
and have the fewest knots. Sight 
down the length of each one to 
check for bending or twists 

• I chose fir for a couple of reasons. 
It's heavy, stiff, and fairly easy to 
work, and since it's basic 
construction lumber, it's available 
most anywhere. You can also use 
pine or cedar or pretty much any 
wood you like, but do not use 
treated lumber. The total cost for 
the fir was $25. 

• The proper sizing for horses is 
largely about preference and use. I 
use 2 sizes in my shop: higher 
ones for standing work (sawing, 
planing) and lower ones for sitting 
work (heavy joinery). 

• The finished height is determined 
by measuring from the ground to 
the bottom of your closed fist. 
Subtracting 4" from that result will 
give you the finished length for 
your legs including the tenons. 
We'll call that measurement H. 

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Step 3 — Milling 

• To start, lay out and cut all your 
pieces to length. While there isn't a 
lot of waste, there's enough to 
allow you to move the parts around 
to avoid larger knots and other 
flaws. The cut list: 

• From each 4x4 cut: 

• 1 @ 36" beam, final 
dimensions 3 1 /4"x3 1 /4"x36" 2 
@ (H) legs, final dims 

• From the 4x6 cut: 

• 4 @ 21" feet, final dims 
3 1 /4"x5"x21" 

• From the 2x4 cut: 

• 2 @ 28 1 /2" stretchers, final 
dims 1-3/8"x3"x28 1 / 2 " 

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Step 4 

• There are several ways to dimension the parts, from handsaws to band saws. My tool of 
choice is the table saw. Since most table saws don't have the capacity to make these cuts 
in a single pass, I'll do it in two. 

• Starting with the legs, set the saw fence to 3" and raise the blade to just past half of the 
4x4 wood's thickness, in this case about 1 3 /4 M high. Putting the best face against the fence, 
push the piece through. Once you've made that cut, flip the piece end to end, and with the 
same face against the fence, make the second pass. You should be left with 3/8"-thick 

• Next, rotate the piece 90° and repeat the process, removing the second face. Repeat this 
process with all of the parts, finishing all like parts at once. 

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Step 5 — Layout 

• The accuracy of the layout is important, so take your time. Mark all like parts at the same 
time and check that they all match before making any cuts. 

• I generally measure joints from the center out. After measuring in from both sides to find 
center, I strike a line and work outward from it. You don't have to follow this method, but it 
works well for me. 

• I also use the blade of my square to transfer lines. Once I have one measurement marked, 
I then transfer that same line to the matching or corresponding pieces. It speeds things 
along and helps keep everything consistent. 

• NOTE: If you're using a handsaw, the easiest way to get a good straight cut is as 
follows. Using a square, mark cut lines around all 4 sides. Make a diagonal cut 

about a quarter of the way through, roll the piece 90°, and cut again. Continue rolling and 
cutting until you've cut through. 

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Step 6 — Tenons 

• To lay out the leg tenons, start by marking the shoulders. Measure in 2W in from each 
end and strike a line around all 4 sides. For the cheek line, measure W to either side of 
center and strike a line all the way around the end. Transfer these lines to the ends of all 4 
legs (remember to orient each leg's 2 tenons 90° to each other). 

• The layout for the stretchers is the same, only you should be 3 1 /4" in from the ends, and 
these tenons are aligned with each other. 

• To cut the tenons, I like to use a saw called a ryoba nokogiri ("double-edged saw"). The 
ryoba is a Japanese generaluse carpentry saw with two sets of teeth: big teeth for ripping 
(cutting with the grain), and small teeth for crosscutting (across the grain). Unlike most 
western saws, which cut on the push stroke, Japanese saws cut on the pull stroke. 

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Step 7 

• Using the crosscut side of the saw, cut along the shoulder line, being sure to stop when 
you reach the cheek line. To help, keep the cut straight, you can hold another piece of 
wood along the line as a guide 

• Flip the saw to its rip side, and cut along the cheek line. When you have a diagonal cut 
from the shoulder to the center of the thickness, roll the piece over and finish the cut from 
the other side. 

Step 8 

i Once all the cheeks are cut, lay out and cut the edge cheeks. Measuring out VA" from 
center, strike your lines and cut. 

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Step 9 

• Clean up any high spots with a sharp chisel. 

• The last step is to put a small chamfer or bevel on the end of the tenon. This can be done 
with a knife, chisel, or sandpaper, and it will help ease assembly. 

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Step 10 — Mortises 

• Again, working out from center, mark all your lines. When laying out the mortises in the 
legs, be sure to mark them on both sides of the legs because the tenon passes all the way 

• The first step in the mortising is to remove the waste using a drill. While a hand drill will 
work, a drill press is recommended. A drill press will give you reliably straight holes with 
sides that can be used for reference as you chisel out the waste. 

• Feet and beam mortises: Using a 1" Forstner bit, drill out the mortises to a depth of 2 5/8"; 
these are blind mortises (or stop mortises), which don't go all the way through. To keep 
the sides straight, first drill holes at either end, and then connect them by drilling a hole in 
the center. Use a sharp, 1" chisel to clean up the sides and square the corners 

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Step 11 


W > 




F . 


• Use a sharp, 1" chisel to clean up the sides and square the corners 

• Stretcher mortises: Because the stretcher is a through mortise, you'll want to work from 
both sides. Only drill halfway through from one side before rolling the piece over and 
drilling the rest of the way from the other. This will keep the drill bit from blowing out the 
exit side, making a splintery mess of things. After drilling, use the same procedure for 
chiseling, working from both sides to keep both faces intact. 

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Step 12 — Pin Holes (Drawbores) 

• Lay out the holes for the pins 
through the mortises (but not the 
tenons yet). For the feet and 
beams these should be centered 
1 V2" from the mortised edge. For 
the stretchers they should be on 

• Use a V2" bit to drill all the mortise 
pin holes. Again, using a drill press 
is highly recommended. Drill slowly 
to minimize splintering on the exit. 

• NOTE: I'm using dowels for 
this project, but if you want 
to take it further, you can square 
the holes with a chisel and make 
square pins instead. 

• It's time to fit the joints. Since each 
will have a slightly different fit, be 
sure to mark each one for its 
corresponding part. I usually mark 
letters on the tenons and on the 
edge of the mortise in places that 
will be covered once they're 


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Step 13 

<*J4F\ W 

• The pieces should slip together with no more than a few raps of a hammer. If it's a lot 
tighter than that, carefully pull it apart and inspect the tenon. You should be able to see 
compressions or shiny spots that will tell you where it's too tight. Use a chisel to make 
adjustments. And remember, a slightly loose joint will be better than an overly tight one on 
this project. 

• Once you've fit all the joints, assemble the horses. 

• Using a sharp pencil, trace the edges of the pin holes onto the tenons. It's important that 
you get the edges of the hole, so mark them carefully. Disassemble the horses. Next, 
measuring from the edge of the circle you've drawn on the tenon, mark a line 1/16" closer 
to the shoulder. This line is the edge of the tenon's pin hole; because it's offset from the 
mortise's pin hole, it will draw the joint tight. You can now drill through the tenon 

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Step 14 — Shaping 

• First, relieve the bottoms of the feet (make them concave). This will make them more 
stable on uneven surfaces. Clamp a pair of feet together with bottoms facing each other, 
and mark a line 4" in from each end. Using a drill press and 1" Forstner bit, drill a line of 
half-depth, overlapping holes where the bottoms meet, from one line to the other. Flip and 
repeat from the other side, then clean up with a chisel just like with the mortises, only this 
time, leave the ends round. 

• For the foot slope, mark a diagonal from each end to the top, starting 2" from the bottom, 
and ending at a point 1 3 /4 M from center, and cut. 

Step 15 

• To finish the ends of the beams, cut a diagonal W from the top edge to a point 1 1 /2 M in from 
the end 

• To make the pins, cut the V2" dowel into twelve 4" lengths. Using a knife, taper the last V2" 
or so. 

• Now clean up all the parts. Sand or plane all the pieces, being careful of the areas around 
the joints (too much will change the fit). 

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Step 16 — Assembly 

• Starting with the stretchers, slip the tenons through the legs and carefully drive the pins 
through with a hammer. You should see the joint tighten itself as the pin goes through. 
Drive the pin until it sticks out both sides equally. 

Step 17 

• Next add the beam, and lastly the feet. 

• You can cut the pins off flush, but I like to leave them a little proud. The easiest way to do 
this is to drill a hole in a scrap of wood about 1/8" thick, slip it over the pin, and saw 
against it. 

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Step 18 — The Finish Line 

• The horses are now ready for the finish of your choice. I use Danish oil, but shellac, 
polyurethane, or varnish will do. 

• Once dry, the last step is to attach the optional sacrificial pieces to the top. Because I 
work with a lot of softer woods, I use clear cedar for this. That way, not only are the 
horses protected from errant saw cuts and the like, but the workpieces I place on them are 
protected from the horses' harder fir. As before, you can use any wood you like, or none at 

• To make these tops easy to replace and free of metal fasteners, I use double-stick tape. 

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Step 19 — The Test 

• The mark of any good shop furniture is not only its strength but also its versatility — its 
ability to adapt to the odd secondary uses you come up with. 

• I could test the workhorses' strength by stacking them with beams and chopping more 
mortises, but after two days spent building them, I'd rather test out their versatility. So with 
the help of some scrap lumber and a frosty beverage, they are transformed from 
workhorses to ... relaxhorses. 

This project first appeared in MAKE's Ultimate Workshop and Tool Guide , on page 38. 

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